When tissue engineering strategies rely on the combination of three-dimensional (3D) polymeric or ceramic scaffolds with cells to culture implantable tissue constructs in vitro, it is desirable to monitor tissue growth and cell fate to be able to more rationally predict the quality and success of the construct upon implantation. Such a 3D construct is often referred to as a ‘black-box’ since the properties of the scaffolds material limit the applicability of most imaging modalities to assess important construct parameters. These parameters include the number of cells, the amount and type of tissue formed and the distribution of cells and tissue throughout the construct. Immunolabeling enables the spatial and temporal identification of multiple tissue types within one scaffold without the need to sacrifice the construct. In this report, we concisely review the applicability of antibodies (Abs) and their conjugation chemistries in tissue engineered constructs. With some preliminary experiments, we show an efficient conjugation strategy to couple extracellular matrix Abs to fluorophores. The conjugated probes proved to be effective in determining the presence of collagen type I and type II on electrospun and additive manufactured 3D scaffolds seeded with adult human bone marrow derived mesenchymal stromal cells. The conjugation chemistry applied in our proof of concept study is expected to be applicable in the coupling of any other fluorophore or particle to the Abs. This could ultimately lead to a library of probes to permit high-contrast imaging by several imaging modalities.
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